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Friday, September 10, 2010

Words escape me

Today was NOT the greatest Friday in the world. By 8:20, I had already put one kid in time out in another classroom, ripped up one kid's homework and thrown it across the room, and taken two kids down the hallway to the phone to call their parents.

I've had better mornings, to say the least.

My rage just continued to simmer all morning long because of my homeroom's seeming apathy about their education. We've been studying number forms this week. Standard form, expanded form, and word form. For most of the 3rd graders, this is the first time they have been required to know how to read a 4, 5, or 6 digit number. On Tuesday, we went over expanded form, and Wednesday and Thursday, we went over word form.

Expanded form never ceases to frustrate me. It is, quite possibly, the absolute SIMPLEST type of problem in all of 3rd grade. It involves adding, every question has plus signs in it, to remind you to add, just in case you forgot, and mostly, you are adding zeros!! A typical question is "What number is represented by 300,000 + 20,000 + 500 + 40 + 8?"

Year after year after year, I have kids that stumble all over these problems, merely because of the fact that they refuse to actually add the numbers. They would rather cherry pick the first digit off of every "piece" and string those numbers together. For the above question, I would get a ton of answers that read 32,548. (Or worse, 3,2548)

I pull my hair out, grind my teeth, and stress out big time while I plead and cajole and try to convince them that if they would just stack these numbers up vertically and add them, they would get the right answer every time. I am usually successful in this endeavor during the day or two that we practice expanded form in class, and sometimes I can get the kids to do it on their homework for that night. When the test rolls around, all bets are off.

Going over the word form strategy on Wednesday and Thursday, I felt I was making some progress. It's overwhelming at first for the kids to see these large numbers and even larger strings of words. But I have a strategy called "Three easy boxes" where we chunk the numbers and words into 3-digit groups, and when the kids do this, they are almost always successful.

Yesterday, I worked with small groups for the first time this year. I was pretty pleased with myself, as time management and small groups are among my weak points that I'm trying to improve on. The kids I worked with got it, and they were telling me all the steps while they did three easy boxes on the number words and turned them into standard form. Before each class dismissed, I passed out the homework, and we did a couple of example problems so that they kids would know exactly what I expected to see.

So this morning, I was incredibly disappointed to find that ONE out of my 15 homeroom students had done her homework correctly. I have 17 in my homeroom, but 2 were absent, so I have no idea if they did it right. And I don't mean that the other 14 wrote down the wrong numbers, I mean that the other 14 didn't try to turn the words into numbers at all. They just bubbled in answers.

Some of the kids hadn't even done the work on the problems that I did in class.

One girl had done nothing BUT the 2 problems that we did together in class, and she said, "Oh, were we supposed to do the other ones?" I had to struggle very hard not to use adult language. Instead, I marched her down to the phone. Call number 1.

I told the kids that I had planned on giving them a little inside recess at the end of the class, but that instead, that time would be used at the beginning, for them to work on their homework, doing it the right way. After about 15 minutes, which involved the second call and placing the third kid in time out in another room, we went over most of the homework problems, which involved doing the strategies of changing words to numbers over and over and over. Over and over and over, I kept saying, "This is what I expect to see on your tests. THIS is the work I want to see BEFORE you fill in a bubble."

When the test started, it was as if I had never spoken a word about it. I walked around and had to stop by about 8 kids' desks, noticing that they had filled in bubbles for questions 1 and 2 without showing a lick of work. No stacking and adding, no three easy boxes, NOTHING.

I understand that these kids are babies at the beginning of the year. Understanding that is not the same as liking it, though, and I was in a terrible mood for the whole morning.

The spelling test went just as poorly, but I won't even go into that.

My afternoon class walked in, and as they did their calendar activities, I started glancing at homeworks to check their work. The first I flipped over looked just like the morning class's. My heart sank. The next one I flipped had all of the work completely done. So did the next, and the next, and the next. Out of the 15 kids in the afternoon class, only 3 had NOT done their work correctly.

After wanting to punt my morning class through the nearest uprights, I just wanted to hug this second class.

I still had a lot of the same issues during the test. For some reason, there is a major disconnect with 3rd graders between work in class and work on tests. But I was a lot more pleased and proud of the 2nd group.

The other high point of my day involved a nice little piece of evidence that I now have in my possession.

One of the kids in the morning class told me that he was going to do the homework the way we practiced it in class, but his mother had told him not to do it that way. I explained that since she wasn't present in class to see how we did things, that HE would have to be the one to show her how we did these problems. He kept saying that she told him not to do it that way. I kept telling him that if she said that, he needed to tell her, "This is the way Mister Teacher says we have to do it."

Eventually, he said, "She said not to listen to the teacher."

Oh, really?? I asked him to repeat it, and then I repeated it myself to be sure. "Your mom actually told you not to listen to your teacher?"

He nodded his head. So I went and got a piece of paper and told him to write that down, explaining the whole time that I wanted to be able to show that paper to his mom when we sat down to talk, and that I wanted to be able to show that paper to the principal and assistant principal when they asked about his work.

Most kids would back away from a claim like that at this point. But my munchkin persisted, and wrote down his statement.

Should be very interesting next week to actually talk to his mom and verify or shoot down this claim.


Miss Teacher said...

What an awesome idea to have that kid write down his "claim" word for word--can't wait to hear how that one turns out!! One day last year I totally lost it with my math class when I found out only 2 out of 15 had done their homework...I probably looked so stupid sputtering up there that "there will be consequences!!" when in reality, I had no idea what to do because who ever expects 2/15 of students to have their hw done?!

Hope next week's better!

Ginger Snaps said...

I soooo know how you feel. I teach 3rd grade too and we are also working on forms of numbers. I was surprised at my class this year though, because they are doing so much better with it than I expected since I have 5 kids who can BARELY read. My kids are doing really well with the expanded form, but they struggled with turning the expanded form into standard form and made the same mistakes that you said because they didn't add the numbers. Soooo frustrating!

Mister Teacher said...

Ginger, I just finished grading the tests, and if I were to just look at the grades based on correct answers chosen, the results are actually quite good. So the silver lining is that the kids DID learn how to read numbers this week.
Now I have to decide how many points I'm actually going to take off of each question where work was not shown -- the "consequences", Miss Teacher. :)

HappyChyck said...

Mister Teacher, I am not used to seeing posts of such incredible frustrations without a little humor added in! Hang in there!

My son is in 4th grade, and there were many rough points last year, but mostly later in the year with multiplication. (This year it's reading.) He gives up too easily. If he didn't have me as a mom, he'd be outside riding his bike after school everyday instead of doing his homework. He doesn't fight me about doing homework, as it's a habit that's been done since kindergarten, but I know his nature. It would be very easy for him to blow it off.

But then, on the other hand, at his school, it's common for teachers to make students "sit on the wall" to do their homework during recess while the other kids get to play. My son talks of it like it's the most terrible thing in the world.

I wish my 8th grade students had mean parents like me or that we had "the wall" because things aren't looking much better in my classroom.

Hope your students shape up soon!

Christy said...

I'm sorry the week ended with so much frustration. Hopefully things improve soon.

kherbert said...

Expanded notation help
1. Have the students rewrite the problem vertically. Since it is usually written horizontally, it helps them see the place holder zeros.

2. Have them count the places in the largest number (usually first number) and draw lines for those places. Underneath the lines label the place value with initials. Then they say the number in the problem, and place it in the correct place on the new place value chart. Then the place holders zeros are put in place.

Mister Teacher said...

kherbert, that is exactly what we do in class, and these are the steps I enforce. When they do this, they are successful, as I said. However, it's getting them to actually do this BEFORE choosing an answer on the test that is my issue.

Educational Encounters said...

I know exactly how you feel. I've used the tactic of having students write down ridiculous responses to cover my butt. I had a parent go to administration because I gave her kid an F. I had the students write down that he took 20 minutes on his 5 page essay, turned it in late, and didn't care.

Another student this week refused to take a test. So I asked him to write down why he wasn't writing, instead of answering the question. He gave me a gem.